The Portland Police Bureau's Officer Scott Westerman was tragically forced to counter a paranoid woman's attack. Image courtesy of Portland Police Bureau.
A change in the Portland Police Bureau's schedule had left a skeleton crew manning the city streets between 7 and 9 a.m. on Dec. 14, 1996. Just before the 9 a.m. shift was due to come on, a call came in saying that a woman had ingested poison and was feeling the effects. Scott Westerman, one of only four officers in the field and the only one not already tied up on a call, was dispatched.
Arriving at the Stevens Street residence, the officer found two paramedics waiting for him. The two advised Westerman that the woman inside, Patricia Marie Sweany, had reportedly swallowed poison at her own hand. Portland firefighters had tried to cajole Sweany into coming outside the house. They almost succeeded until Sweany saw the paramedics.
"I know you," the woman said, stopping and pointing at Paramedic Kurt Ream. "You were at that place last night! I'm not going anywhere with you!" With that, Sweany turned around and ran back into the house. For his part, Ream had no idea what she was talking about.
Their charm having taken them only so far with Sweany, the firemen elected to brief the paramedics on what they knew before returning to the firehouse. They failed to mention — believing that their lieutenant would enter the information into an EMS database — that Sweany was delusional.
Westerman didn't have the luxury of just up and leaving as the firemen had. If Sweany had indeed ingested poison, he had to make sure she got assistance.
The department had recently implemented a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained to deal with the mentally ill. The CIT officer that answered Westerman's request for assistance advised of an extended ETA and instructed Westerman to contact Sweany. If it became apparent that the woman was in need of psychological intervention, the CIT officer would take over the call upon her arrival.
The request seemed reasonable to Westerman, so he and the paramedics approached the house.
An Unfamiliar Face
Westerman's knock at the door was greeted by a young man who identified himself as the caller.
"She's the one who needed the help," the young man said, indicating a woman standing in the living room wearing blue jeans and blue sweatshirt. "I called for her."
The 45-year-old Sweany walked across the living room and peeked around the front door so that Westerman could see only a quarter of her body. Westerman attributed the posture to a reticence on Sweany's part to have anything to do with him or the paramedics.
Sweany claimed to be working with the FBI and CIA to unravel conspiracies involving both the city of Portland and Multnomah County. But while the tendrils of corruption allegedly spread to the District Attorney's Office and beyond, it was plain to see the only thing unraveling was Sweany's narrative. Her words confirmed to Westerman's mind the state of her own, even as Sweany was developing her own suspicions about him.
"You have an unfamiliar face," she said. "I don't like unfamiliar faces." With that, she attempted to close the door.
Westerman placed his hand on the door. "My name is Scott," he said calmly. "I'm a police officer here in Portland."
"And this is Kurt," Westerman said, introducing the paramedic to Sweany. "He's with the ambulance company and we're here to help you the best we can."
Sweany's expression revealed a lack of faith, but she lessened her pressure against the door. Westerman explained that it was his understanding that Sweany had been poisoned and was refusing medical treatment.
"Yeah," Sweany acknowledged. "So what?"
Ebb and Flow
As the woman was clearly a danger to herself, Oregon law obligated Westerman to take Sweany into custody for her own protection. Determined to keep her engaged in the conversation until the CIT officer arrived, Westerman found himself dealing with an ebb and flow of feints as Sweany would try to push him away and he'd gently dissuade her from shutting the door.
But with each passing minute, Westerman engendered Sweany's trust. Her resolve to close the door dissipated and she slowly neared a state of emotional
"I have to determine whether or not you are a danger to yourself or others," Westerman said. "If you're not, we'll just leave. But if you are, then we're going to have to take you to the hospital. On the other hand, you called for help and the paramedics are here and willing to take you to the hospital right now."
By allowing Sweany to decide for herself, Westerman got Sweany to accept that she needed help. Agreeing to accompany Westerman, she said she first needed to tell her friend.
As Sweany turned and retreated back in the direction of her presumed friend, Westerman followed to keep an eye on her. He was about five steps into the house when she turned around and saw him.
And the whole game plan went to hell.